I came across this article recently and have been thinking about it. A lot. I don't agree with everything that he has to say (his confrontational approach isn't really my style), but I can't argue with the heart behind it. I also think there are other ways to live out this verse besides foster parenting (adoption, volunteering your time with at-risk kids for example) and he doesn't touch on those.
Any thoughts? I would love to hear what you think.
Is the evangelical church ready for "true religion"?
By: Warren Smith
For some reason, I’ve been thinking a lot about foster children. I’m not 100 percent sure why. I’ve never been a foster child, nor have I been a foster parent.
But I was reading the book of James the other day, and I came across this verse: “This is true religion, pure and undefiled in the sight of God, to look after widows and orphans in their time of need.”
When I read that verse, I was stopped dead in my tracks. First of all, here’s a verse that could not be more plain. If we want our religious activities to please God, then we’d better be looking after widows and orphans. End of story.
So, the next question is: How are we doing with that clear command? Where are the widows and orphans in out culture today, and what are we doing about them?
Perhaps the largest group of orphans in America are those children in our foster care system. According to the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System (AFCARS) Report, there were 523,000 in the foster care system in the United States on September 30, 2003. That means that, on average, there are 10,000 kids in every state. Probably hundreds living all around me – and you – right now.
But who is looking after these orphans? Well, unfortunately, it is mostly NOT the church or church-going people.
To be fair, in a system this large, there are undoubtedly many wonderful, caring, and selfless foster parents. I know of one family, for example, that over a 25 year period has cared for more than 80 foster children. Any money they’ve received they’ve plowed back into the care and education of the children.
But it is also fair to say that since most counties across the country pay foster parents to look after these kids, many foster parents become foster parents at least in part because of these payments from the government, which can be as much as $1000 per month per child. Can you do the math? The government spends $500-million dollars A MONTH to keep kids in foster homes. That’s $6-billion a year.
I go to a fairly large, theologically conservative, evangelical church. Our budget is nearly $1-million a year. We just spent $2-million on a new building. I was even on the building committee. But I don’t know if we’ve ever spent one dime, or taken one hour, to address this issue in our community.
My guess is that your church is the same way. Now, we’ll spend thousands to go on a short-term missions trip to Haiti or Africa, but we won’t go to the trouble of letting the government pay us to look after these precious children right in our own neighborhood? Forgive me for saying it this bluntly, but something is badly out of whack with our values of the evangelical church when it could allow this to happen.
What’s particularly interesting is that the average stay in a foster home is 18months. Think about that. It’s not a lifetime sentence to look after these children. It’s less than 2 years. But that sure is a long time for an 8-year-old. In two years, you can change that kid’s life. You can share God’s saving grace with him in both word and deed. It’s enough time to get a kid behind grade level up to grade level. You can change his life forever, and get paid for it.
Becoming a foster parent is about the last thing on my list right now. And my guess is that it is on yours, too. But I’m going to look into it. I’m going to see what I have to do. I’m going to see if my church can offer a training program in foster parenting.
Because even though it’s the last thing on my list now, it’s also becoming apparent to me that if my religion is worth anything in God’s eyes, maybe it should be the first thing.
Warren Smith is the publisher of the Evangelical Press News Service. His new book, “My Lover’s Quarrel With The Evangelical Church,” is now available.
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